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Map the System: Plastic Waste in Ghana

On 15-17 June 2020, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final virtually. The ‘African Transformers’ team from Ashesi University competed against 30 other finalists from institutions around the world at the event, reaching the live public final as one of six finalists in the competition. Team members Lloyd Teta, Denver Chikokonya, Munyaradzi Madzoma, Nadine Afkwah Tim and Marshal Ruzvidzo tell us how they mapped the system to understand the root causes of improper waste management in Ghana.

African Transformers is a team of five undergraduate Engineering students at Ashesi University in Ghana. We come from two countries: Zimbabwe and Cameroon. In our freshman year, we connected over a common problem of plastic waste management in our Foundation of Design and Entrepreneurship class. Despite completing the course, we decided to continue the project because we could attest to the fact that improper waste management is not only a problem in Ghana but also in our home countries of Cameroon and Zimbabwe. When we were introduced to Map the Systems, we saw it as an opportunity to learn about the systems thinking approach of problem-solving and to expand our research and work.

To understand the root causes of the problem and its effects beyond what we had seen in our communities, we conducted 22 interviews with students, itinerant plastic collectors, plastic waste buyers, market vendors and representatives from recycling companies. We also carried out secondary research by studying and analyzing research papers, academic literature, national policy publications, news articles, websites, and Governmental reports. Our study of existing solutions made us realize that the problem of improper plastic waste management would be almost impossible to solve if we cannot identify why the problem persists.

Visual map showing the plastic waste problem persisting in Accra. Recycling facilities, population growth, government policies, poverty, people's mindset, capital and plastic production leads to poor plastic waste management.
Visual Here is a map showing why the problem persists in Accra

Gaps in Existing Solutions

  • Waste Collection Companies fail to segregate plastic waste from other solid waste after collection
  • The Government: No proper regulation on the operation of waste management agencies. Poor implementation of plastic management policies.
  • Informal Waste Collectors: Lack of credibility, since high volumes of plastic waste are required as minimum selling quantity.
  • Recycling Companies: Only a small range of plastics is recycled
  • Sensitization by NGOs: These organizations are not consistent with campaigns for plastic waste management due to a lack of funding and sensitization strategies to draw the local people’s attention.

System Map

Based on our research, we came up with a map that shows the different stakeholders within our system and how they interact. Modelling these interactions helped us see that stakeholders such as Informal Waste Collectors are often neglected but they contribute largely to solving the issue of improper plastic waste management. They are said to collect, sort and recycle up to 18% of the total municipal waste generated in small communities within Accra and can reach rural communities that other stakeholders cannot reach. So, we hope to leverage this information to create a sustainable business model that will connect these waste collectors to recycling companies and allow them to deliver waste to the companies at a standard fee.

systems map

Key Insights and lessons learned

  1. We thought that turning to biodegradable plastic was the way forward to manage plastic waste, but we realized that drastic change would take many years before implementation, the reason being that biodegradable plastics are still expensive to produce.
  2. We also realized that sustainable solutions are the ones that come from within society. Solutions should blend with the typical lifestyle of the people.
  3. Solutions that work in other countries may not work in Ghana. So, there is a need for appropriate technologies built for the context of Accra.
  4. We believe that everyone has a part to play in saving our land, sea life and our communities from the effects of plastic waste. The governments alone cannot eliminate plastic waste from the environment, neither can an individual, but with collective action we can reduce improper plastic waste disposal.

Our journey to the top six finalists was interesting due to the transition online. We had to adjust to changes and meeting other teams virtually gave us the chance to connect on various platforms like Slack and share ideas. Moving forward, we will use what we learnt from the Map the System competition to continue our research and publish our findings as an open-source document for other researchers to build on our work.

on 3rd September
An invitation: University of Oxford’s response to COVID-19

Written by Mark Mann, Social Enterprise Lead & Innovation Lead for Humanities & Social Sciences at Oxford University Innovation and Chris Blues, Programme Manager for Social Ventures at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

The University of Oxford’s response to COVID-19 has been quite simply, remarkable. New ventures have been created, established and new ventures are pivoting, and new initiatives have been set up.

The Oxford Vaccine Group is leading the search for a vaccine. New ventures such as, OxSed and OxVent, are working across testing, diagnostics and ventilation. The Liber Project, CDL recovery, Oxford Foundry, OUI’s EMBA Mentorship Scheme and Oxford Together are supporting start-ups, scale-ups and projects to address the numerous challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Organisations have also pivoted. This includes OxLOD which enables the linking of open data to determine patterns and inform the most appropriate response, COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to expand their technology for the healthcare sector. Another venture, OpenClinical, has pivoted by using their technology to get best practice to the medical front line as quickly as possible.

These responses and the behaviours of the University of Oxford to COVID-19 have revealed the latent structures, processes, and mental models we all use. COVID-19 showcased to the world our incredible and continuing ability to respond to such a crisis. But it has also highlighted a momentary peak in willingness to be malleable, adaptable, and entrepreneurial. An invigorating psychological willingness has emerged in Oxford which has expressed itself as a bias towards action, a sense of urgency when working towards a common goal, and an openness to challenge current structures, processes, and possibilities.

Frustratingly, many of these responses cannot scale soon enough to significantly reduce the short-term negative impacts of our current crisis. It can take a long time to create, build and scale many ventures. But we can also see the potential power of the ideas generated across our ecosystem to accelerate positive impact across the world; we must equip ourselves with the ability to do more, faster. We now have the opportunity to unpack these latent behaviours and collectively ask a question:

What structural changes can we make today to improve our nature of response to future challenges?

If a similar challenge appears in 2030, what can we do in the next 10 years to nurture different mental models and approaches to solving world problems, reconfigure relationships and build a smorgasbord of assets and tools to respond better and faster? Under duress, an individual, organisation and ecosystem often reaches for assets and tools that are readily available. Oxford’s response to COVID-19 follows this pattern.  It is very hard to build new things when under pressure to respond to an immediate challenge.

Looking towards 2030, COVID-19 has emphasized the interdependence of actors in our Oxford impact system. We believe there are a couple of transitions that need to occur by 2030. First is to move away from siloes and towards mobilising and capturing the value of our interdependence. Secondly, we need to create the appropriate structures, processes, mental models, and funding structures to incentivise collaboration, not competition. When Oxford is under pressure to respond to another crisis we need to have built new tools to overcome transactional partnerships. This is a long, but worthwhile, process. Three simple questions might get us started:

1) Who cares?

Which actors in Oxford are going to commit to the aim of doing better next time? What underlying assumptions, values and principles are unnecessarily holding us back?

2) How do we organise and fund?

What infrastructure and assets do we need to build or leverage? What data are missing to understand the underlying system structure?

3) What should we prioritise?

What does success look like in 2030? What is the roadmap towards achieving structural changes in Oxford by 2030?

Societal and environmental problems are not going away. Oxford’s knowledge and research is a stable foundation that we can leverage. For example, innovations developed through social sciences research have been particularly useful when building social ventures. The understanding of people and their behaviours is so important to bringing people out of poverty, upskilling them and working to improve social and environmental outcome.

Nevertheless, it is important not just to put efforts into developing the knowledge. Let us build up our capability to rapidly deploy these findings through new technologies, new ventures and new scaling pathways.

We do not seek to create yet another governance or oversight committee. We are seeking coordination without control, to create a platform for actors in Oxford that wish to embrace interdependence, long termism, to continuously improve and to maximise the positive impact the ideas and knowledge generated in Oxford can have on the world. The only questions remaining are – who cares? Do you?

on 1st September
Impact Measurement for Systems Change

With the emergence of systems thinking in social impact, the need for measurement and evaluation tools informed by systems thinking is increasingly becoming a necessity. An increase in publications such as Principles for Effective Use of Systems Thinking in Evaluation by the Systems Thinking in Evaluation, Topical Interest Group (SETIG 2018) and the Systems Practice Workbook by the Omidyar Group is further advancing this thought.

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with Forum for the Future, also organised a session at the Skoll World Forum 2018 on measuring systems change, engaging academics, practitioners, and researchers.

Our research team has identified key challenges to overcome to measure the impact of a system focused intervention:

  • Time and distributed impacts: Systems change interventions typically require a concerted effort, involving many actors, over a long period of time, during which both challenges and opportunities shift. While the timeline of progress in the social impact sector is slow,  the funding available is short term and outcomes focused.  Researchers and practitioners agree that these arelong-term efforts with no agreed finish line or point at which you can say you are done.
  • Attribution: Because of these complex features of  systems change undertakings, it is often difficult to collect consistent, over time data at the ‘systems level’.  This complicates the aspiration to attribute causality to the interventions and to cumulate efforts. There are typically several different steps between the intervention and eventual outcome, along with a large gap in timing of the intervention and the resulting outcome.
  • Consensus: We do know from scores of efforts, that a key element is common ground and agreement about some basics of measurement and interpretation.  Building this kind of shared view across a sector is itself a challenge.  But it is crucial to have this broad base of agreement on how to measure systems change. If we do not have consensus on an approach in the social impact sector, it is very difficult to mobilise funding or encourage concerted action.

There are still disputes about what is social enterprise and what is systems change. Another dispute is how you measure it. You can lose a lot of people from the debate if you decide to measure following one approach.”

Systems Thinking educator working with a Foundation, USA

Key Principles

Our contributors shared some principles that they follow when designing a strategy for measuring systems change.

  • Integrity of approach: Since we cannot measure change at the system level and progress is slow, we start by looking at the approach of the organisation. 

As an example, if we take a lab that is working on a cure for cancer, suppose they have been working for decades with no cure in sight. This does not imply that they have failed in their mission. However, how do we measure the impact of their work? This requires us to do system sensingbeyond the scope of the intervention or product. Instead, you measure the quality of the lab and their adherence to scientific protocol.”

Systems Thinking educator working with a Foundation, USA

Similarly, you use a somewhat rigorous way of assessing impact to look at change over time. This change can be non-linear. However, you must spot the ability to adapt and maintain focus on a goal but be open to changing tactics and strategy.

  • Guiding star: It is crucial that at the beginning of an intervention, a team has plotted the dynamic of the current system that they wish to change in order to measure the effect of their intervention. After this dynamic has been mapped, they need to envision an end-state that they want to achieve in order to create a guiding star for their intervention.
  • Innovation versus transformation: It is important to differentiate between systems innovation, which implies working within a system to create incremental change, and systems transformation, which is working on transforming the dynamic of the system itself. For our interviewees, systems innovations are more provisional and contextual, they don’t necessarily change the status quo. These contrast with the much rarer system transformations, the ones that profoundly transform the system by addressing root causes of problems or by changing how agents relate to one another.
  • Spill overs: Funders must determine the spill over effects from engaging in a specific systems change venture. There are other organisations operating in a system that funders can disempower by funding one specific enterprise.  What if we back one organisation that inadvertently leads to the failure of nine others? In such cases, we can typically only use estimates. 

Metrics to keep in mind

  • Custom Metrics: One of our contributors is running a multi-sector coalition developing custom metrics early in the intervention based on a sound theory of change. For them, they measure how many new actors they are bringing into the solution, placed in a system where they can affect change. They also measure how they are impacting funding strains in their problem area.
  • Impact levels: You can also differentiate between the levels of impact you are exploring, whether it is short- or near-term outcomes, or impact on more complex system dynamics. As an example, when examining impact, we can look at correlations with better outcomes in the system itself, ripple effects on other outcomes and the non-linear spread of impact. You can also look for evidence that the system itself as gotten healthier in some way. In fact, a key question for funders is, what are the indicators aligning to make deeper progress in making systems healthier?
  • Failures: We also must look at people who have failed to achieve their desired outcomes and walked away. This is a critical piece of information on what tactics might not achieve systems change and helps to eliminate self-reporting bias.
  • Using a secondary data source: A secondary data source is always helpful to get feedback from outside the organization. If we have self-reported data, we must enquire about independent sources of data on the health of the system. This can also help us find a baseline or control along with self-reported data.

From our contributors, those who are funders expressed a keen interest in the ability to spot early signals from ventures that are geared to create systems change. Identifying proxy-indicators for what makes an organisation more effective at influencing systems and shifting the status quo can help them optimise their funding strategy.

As we can see, impact measurement for systems change is a work in progress. The principles stated above are currently used by our contributors to define their individual approaches to measuring their activities. 


Author: Nikhil Dugal is a systems change consultant with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. He is a Skoll Scholar, having completed his MBA from the Saïd Business School in 2018.

on 27th August

About this group

Dear all,

In early October this page will be migrated to the new Oxford Business Alumni website’s Groups section, and this group will merge with the "Oxford Business Network for Social Impact". This is to ensure better integration with the OBA Directory, reduced number of login details for members to keep track of, and a simpler way for students and alumni to interact with each other.

Therefore, please do not request membership to this page, but rather register for the new OBA website (https://www.alumniweb.ox.ac.uk/obasecure/page.aspx?pid=1820) if you have not already done so since July 2012. Once your registration is processed, you may join an Oxford Business Network as well as Chapters and events with the same login details. Please note, in early October we will be sending all 2012-2013 degree programme students their alumni number to register. Any other alumni requiring their Alumni Number for registration please email us at alumni@sbs.ox.ac.uk.

We will update you once the new page is available. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you on the new OBA website!

Best regards,

Alumni Relations Office

Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

What is impact investing?
How do you measure social and financial returns?
Can you pursue social and financial returns simultaneously?

Welcome to the Social Finance Oxford Business Network!
Led by current MBA students at the Saïd Business School, we exist to consider these and other questions surrounding the emerging field of impact investing. Our goal is active collaboration between Oxford students, alumni and others with interest in Social Finance and Impact Investing.

We are committed to bridging the gap between finance and social enterprise by: - Deepening our knowledge of social finance and impact investing developments - Building networks & relationships in the industry - Pursuing career opportunities

  Contact the manager of this GroupSpaces group
Category: Other
Networks: Oxford University, Saïd Business School

News & Announcements

Oxford Business Network pages are changing!

Posted by Ladd Thurston, Monday, 1st October 2012 @ 1:32pm

  • Dear all,

    In early October this page will be migrated to the new Oxford Business Alumni website’s Groups section, and this group will merge with the "Oxford Business Network for Social Impact". This is to ensure better integration with the OBA Directory, reduced number of login details for members to keep track of, and a simpler way for students and alumni to interact with each other.

    Therefore, please do not request membership to this page, but rather register for the new OBA website (https://www.alumniweb.ox.ac.uk/obasecure/page.aspx?pid=1820) if you have not already done so since July 2012. Once your registration is processed, you may join an Oxford Business Network as well as Chapters and events with the same login details. Please note, in early October we will be sending all 2012-2013 degree programme students their alumni number to register. Any other alumni requiring their Alumni Number for registration please email us at alumni@sbs.ox.ac.uk.

    We will update you once the new page is available. We appreciate your understanding and look forward to seeing you on the new OBA website!

    Best regards,

    Alumni Relations Office

    Saïd Business School, University of Oxford

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Impact Generation March Happy Hour: Marmanie Consulting

  • Wednesday, 14th March 2012 at 7:30pm
    Location: The exchange, london bridge

    Sign up…

SVCIC Debrief: Feedback and Insights

  • Friday, 24th February 2012 at 5:30pm - 6:30pm
    Location: TBA

    Want to gain insights into what it takes to succeed in sustainable venture capital? 

    • 1 person attended

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